Le Tour 2017

2017 Cross Country Trek (Le Tour)

Day 0 / August 3 (Athens > Eugene): Frank, Pat and I flew to Eugene on separate flights and met Erik at the airport where he picked us up. He was disguised as a tall corn on the cob—yellow socks, shorts, shoes and shirt—Oregon Duck attire, but we picked him out even though he was trying to blend in. We checked into the Campus Inn in downtown Eugene, drove over to the RV, and made sure our bikes were ready to roll the next day, Day 1. Later, we soft-pedaled around Eugene for about one hour in the scorching heat, and while climbing a hill, rounded a corner and stumbled upon Prefontaine’s Rock and stopped for photos. We also took photos at the historic Hayward Field, the home of the University of Oregon's track and field teams. Later that night we—Crumley, Erik, Katie and I—ate dinner at Ambrosia’s, an Italian restaurant where I think Morocco and I ate also 29 years earlier. During dinner we all professed to a long list of maladies and infirmities we’d been hit by in recent weeks, anything to take the bullseye off one’s back.

Day 1 / August 4 (Eugene > Redmond) 121 miles / 7 hours, 15 minutes, 6,000 feet climbing: The gates to Le Tour opened early morn in Eugene and before I knew what hit me we were cruising along at 25 miles per hour beside the Willamette River behind the powerful pedal rotations of the Rainman Pat Raines. Damn, I thought, Le Tour has started in earnest! But I remained mum and pressed down on my pedals and held on. But in the back of my mind I sensed impending doom, for me at least. The Willamette River wends its way down from the Cascades to the Pacific Ocean and we rode against the flow, meaning we were climbing, albeit slightly at first, almost imperceptibly, curving one way and then the other on the snaky, tree-lined road. Sometimes the river would bend away from us, but we always arced back to its waters and rode beside the Willamette for long stretches at a time. The further into the foothills we rode, the faster the current became, i.e., the road was tilting a little more, and against us no less. We left at 7 AM to escape the late afternoon heat and once the sun cleared the tree line, about one hour in, and its rays flickered off the surface of the Willamette, at first I thought it was hundreds of silver fish.

Around mile 62, we hit the base of one of the Iconic Climbs of Le Tour, McKenzie Pass, a 22 mile, 4,000-foot monster—talk about a rude welcome to Le Tour! Cycling confrere Jervey, who lives part-time between nearby Bend and faraway North Georgia, met us at the base of the climb—he had ridden down from the opposite direction—and suffered up the monster climb with us. In the early miles, we climbed in forests with trees that shade the road but eventually we ascended above treeline and into exposed, dry, sun-blasted terrain. At the top, some 22 miles away, about an hour-and-thirty minutes later, the true “Pass” cut across petrified lava fields—acres and acres of small black boulders covering the top of McKenzie and strewn in every direction. The petrified lava rocks radiate heat like hot rocks in a sauna and we were baking at the top. To make matters worse for everyone, I cracked like a dropped egg, lights out, start singing the blues-kinda-crackin, which means it took me a very long time to suffer up and over the top of the pass. Fortunately, Rainman dropped back and nursed me up the climb, urging me on, and pulling when the grade wasn’t so steep. At the top, I was happy I decided against wearing the polkadot jersey as a practical joke seeing as how I was 2 hours back. A very nice couple gave us all water at the top and on the descent, we stopped at Jervey’s van and enjoyed ice cold drinks—best we’d ever had! Muchas gracias! After cold drinks, Rainman left a 20-mile scorch mark in the fresh blacktop as he sat at the front and we flew to Redmond with a tailwind on a slightly downhill run.

That evening we went to a brewery in Remond and met Jervey, Jeremey and his pregnant wife. We ordered our meals from food trucks and (some of us) drank pints of ale outside from a local list of microbrews. It was a fantastic evening and made abandoning Le Tour, which I’d considered earlier after being pounded into the dirt on Day 1, seem less likely—I would continue, at least there would be beer.

Day 2 / August 5 (Redmond > John Day / 138 miles, 7 hours, 30 minutes; 5,600 feet of climbing): Jeremy came and saw us off early this morning and after a round of hugs, we rolled away to continue our push to Georgia. Day 2 consisted of two main climbs and two main descents. The raod was smooth and mostly flat the first 40 miles, and after the first climb, which was gentle, we bombed down a 13 mile descent, rocketing down and around sweeping turns that arc wide enough so braking isn’t required—just tuck in, let go and hold on! We were in a freefall for 13 miles and I was laughing out loud at the bottom; we all were smiling. Everyday for the first two weeks we’ll get similar descents. The second descent wasn’t as steep but Rainman drove down a snaking canyon road for about 8 miles at a solid tempo and out into the dry, sun-blasted landscape. We’ve begun to pass riders loaded down with panniers headed the opposite way, their adventure nearing an end, ours just underfoot. But already, Rainman and Lefty look suspiciously strong – must keep an eye on those two. And, brothers and sisters, it’s hot – 100 degrees – so we leave early, but there’s no escaping the sun, eventually it burns bright and hot, as we knew it would, but we march on, slathered in sun screen, legs already aching, enjoying the ride.

Day 3 / August 6 (John Day, OR > Richland, OR / 124 miles, 7 hours; 5,700 feet of climbing): Today, Day 3, Frank, Erik and I came up with a plan to slow Rainman down: work him like a dray horse. We put Rainman on the front and told him to pull. Unfortunately, just like Brer Rabbit and his damn briar patch, Rainman loves pulling. Hard. Real hard at times. Today we rode though a mixture of dry, arid scrub desert in the low-lying areas and national forests with large evergreens when we climbed. The trees in the national forests and the hazy smoke above from Idaho forest fires kept the sun from roasting us, but it’s still hot and dry and keeping the tank topped off with liquids is paramount. It was cold when we started and we passed at least 20 cyclists bundled from head to toe headed in the other direction loaded down with panniers, blankets and sleeping bags while we scudded by in short sleeves. The three climbs today were manageable and a couple of the descents were once again knock your socks off fast—we dive down them, tucked in like a bullet, dipping right then left, drafting each other and sling-shotting by at times, the miles ticking off like a metronome. Erik G is riding exceptionally strong also and he and Rainman did the yeoman’s share of the workload today—Frank and I, as team leaders, are waiting until the big mountains to attack. We’re all feeling a little tired after 3 long days, but the Tour waits on no one, so Crumley and I had a good cry session tonight-tomorrow we should be ready to roll. From the road.

Day 4 / August 7 (Richland, OR > Mew Meadows, ID / 115 miles, 6 hours, 45 minutes; 7,000 feet of climbing): Today we were scheduled to cross the last 40 miles of Oregon, cross the Snake River, and punch into Idaho. We left early, at 7 AM, when it was chilly, and climbed a three mile climb right out of the box. But the reward was worth it as once again we found ourselves on a long, ripping descent, but this one was mostly straight and we had a tailwind so it only took a couple of pushes on the pedals every so often to maintain a 30 mile per hour average for a significant stretch of time. Today, the temperature hovered around 90 and the hazy film of smoke in the distance again kept the sun from frying us to crispy critters. It was up and down the first 40 miles today on our way out of Oregon, then we turned and rode parallel to the Snake River for 10 miles, eventually crossing the river and riding into Idaho. At times today, we were gliding along like a well-oiled machine, barely putting pressure on the pedals, yet humming along at 25 miles per hour. At one of the store stops a fellow said, “Man, I saw you guys a while back—you’re hauling ass!” And so we are, crossing the country in leaps and bounds. We are adjusting ourselves to long days in the saddle, and today’s ride of 115 miles seemed like a “short” day. But we also climbed a total of 7,000 feet today, and with the iconic Old White Bird Hill coming tomorrow, I pray the legs will hold up. From the road, somewhere in Idaho.

Day 5 / August 8 (New Meadows, ID > Kooskia, ID / 115 miles, 6 hours, 30 minutes; 4,500 feet of climbing): CRUMLEY TAKES POLKA DOT! Old White Bird Hill, one of the more memorable climbs of our cross country trek, loomed on the horizon of Day 5 of our (somewhat) fearless foursome’s quixotic quest to cross the country on two wheels. Old White Bird is the second Hors catégorie climb (HC / Above Category) on this year’s Tour, the first being McKenzie Pass on the first day. Old White Bird is a 9 mile climb with over 3,000 feet of elevation gain and features a dozen or more European style switchbacks. As a rider climbs higher and higher, he or she can see the road unfurling directly beneath him/her in layers, like a string strewn back and forth across the face of the mountain. It is a climb one does not forget. Of course, neither does one forget a Circle K burned into one’s butt-cheek with a red hot branding iron.

When we started in New Meadows it was 40 degrees and we froze our rosy arses off. (It would be a 55 degree swing before the day was done.) But we descended down a moderately steep river gorge for the first 30 miles. We drove down the blacktop barely pedaling at 25 miles per hour while the water in the river poured and pounded down the boulder strewn gorge beside us. The steep, tree-lined walls of the gorge and the cool breeze off the river kept us shaking in our socks for the first hour, but the worm turned, the weather warmed, and after 30 miles, the road continued to tilt down, so we kept gliding along. Today, we found our groove, we were flowing, flying along at a comfortable pace. Descending for 40 mile stretches helps.

At Mile 60 we hit White Bird Hill, where massive KOM points would be awarded. At the bottom of the hill, Crumley launched a massive attack while the others laughed—after all, Crumley had eaten an extra bowl of macaroni and cheese and fries the night before. “The fat boy’s not going anywhere!” Lefty Gruenwedel cackled in a rude and rather insolent manner. After a few minutes of wise cracking at Crumley’s expense, Rainman set a furious tempo and finally rode clear and set sail. A couple of miles later, Lefty unhitched Crowe and also took off in pursuit. But Crumley was sailing, riding like his legs were as light as feathers and he had angel wings on his back. As Rainman closed in for the capture, his team leader, Crowe, radioed for him to drop back and pace him up the climb “or else his ass was swimming home.” Rainman, clearly upset, obeyed orders and drifted back as Lefty flew by in his desperate bid to catch the Flying Fat Man. But it wasn’t to be and Crumley won the massive climb and scored the KOM and moved into the lead in the polka dot jersey competition. Tonight at dinner Crumley even wore the polka dot jersey, and with a Tall Bud in one hand and a Mister Microphone in the other, he sang karaoke to Sinatra’s “I Did it My Way.” That’s okay, tomorrow’s another iconic HC climb—Lolo Pass—and I’m gonna stick on that Fat Boy like a tar baby on a sugar daddy.

The last 16 miles consisted of a mixture of gravel roads with short, sharp climbs and brief, screaming descents. The gravel roads turned left then right beside golden fields of dry grass. We ended the day with yet another blistering, but tight 5 mile descent into the city—if yo love to dascend at high rates of speed, this ride’s your meal ticket. From the road.

Day 6 / August 9: Kooskia, ID > Lochsa Lodge, ID / 95 miles, 5 hours, 30 minutes; 3,000 feet of climbing): Today was a 95-mile rest day before the real trouble begins. We decamped from outside Kooskia at sunup and rode beside the Lochsa River for the entirety of the day as the road curved, twisted and meandered beside the fast-moving waters. But today, we were riding against the flow of the water, meaning we were riding up hill—and we did so all day. But the grade was gentle, barely perceptible at times, and we found a nice rhythm and we pushed up the incline at a comfortable clip. The river, over time, has carved a deep trench and the canyon walls on either side of us rose up a thousand feet. The mountains in this part of Colorado, which is in Nez Perce territory, are covered with towering pines and spruce trees and the deep cut in the rift we rode through meant we were shielded from the sun for most of the morning. We saw fishermen wading knee-deep in the river and a few deer drinking water from the river on the side of the banks. Small fishing cabins line the banks in spots on the other side of the river, the only access a rusty tram crossing the river by pulleys—wild, wide open America. We are all a wee bit sore after 700 miles of pedal stomping, but tonight we are staying in mountain cabins at Lochsa Lodge, our legs in the air, backs on the floor, praying for forgiveness, and looking for redemption, because the next three days are massive—155 miles - 138 miles - 158 miles—over a few big mountain passes. There were no changes in the Overall standings after today’s stage with Rainman still in Yellow and Crumley in polka dot, and Lefty Gruenwedel closing down both riders. Fortunately for Crowe, the time cut was extended to sundown, allowing him to stay in the Tour and fight on. From the road.

Day 7 / August 10: Lochsa Lodge, ID > Wisdom, MT / 155 miles, 8 hours, 45 minutes; 6,500 feet of climbing): Whoa daddy, today was one of the epic stages of the Cross Country Tour—155 miles over two iconic mountain passes, Lolo Pass and Chief Joseph Pass. Lolo Pass, a Category 1 climb, weighs in at 10 miles and ascends to over 5,000 feet, while Chief Joseph, an HC / Above Category climb, would force us up to the highest point of the trip so far: 7,200 feet. Chief Joseph is a 13-mile ascent that gains 3,000 feet in elevation that we would face 120 miles into the day’s festivities. We knew today would be a grueling day, a long day on the bike, so we planned to conserve as much energy as we could, while still pushing hard enough to make decent time, a delicate dance to say the least.

Right out of the box, we climbed Lolo Pass. It was cold at the start and we rode the 10 mile climb at our own pace, regrouped at the top, and screamed down the other side. We were in short sleeves so we wouldn’t have to carry arm warmers and vests later, and we froze like popsicles on the decent. But we kept pedaling and after an hour or more we thawed, and turned and rode a winding bike path that was parallel the main road for over 30 miles. The main road was a little busy so it was a nice reprieve to scoot down a smooth bike path that dipped and rose and twisted and turned. Temps stayed moderate most of the day and the fires are still all around us but aren’t impeding our progress. The skies are still hazy but that seems to be a way of life in these parts in the States in the summertime.

We glided to the base of Chief Joseph Pass and after 120 miles began the iconic climb. Instead of switchbacks, Chief Joseph slices into the mountains in wide sweeping arcs. The grade averages between 5% - 6% but kicks up to 7% at certain points. Lefty Gruenwedel swept up the climb like a witch on a broomstick with Crumley close behind. Crowe brought up the broom wagon with Rainman doing the pacing so he could make the time cut. After climbing for over an hour, the four of us summitted and powered down the decent. We had about a 25-mile run into Wisdom and we scorched the downhill the entire way. With 8 miles to go, a smattering of raindrops began to fall, and with 4 miles left the bottom dropped out. We were pelted by sleet and then rain and pummeled by crosswinds, but Lefty put us on his back and pulled us into Wisdom like he owned the damn town.

Today, we experienced a little of all types of weather: cold, sleet, rain, heat, sunshine, fire and smoke. And we have met a lot of interesting folk along the way: the man with the dog that Rainman spotted, the fellow from Seattle riding cross country, Charles Manson’s brother, and the cyclo-cross rider at the convenience store who helped Rainman when he flatted. It’s a big ole wide open world out there with a lot of wild and crazy characters and I’m thankful to be able to soak it all in. From the road.

Day 8 / August 11: Wisdom, MT > Ennis, MT / 140 miles, 8 hours; 5,000 feet of climbing: This morning when we left Wisdom it was 36 degrees—we froze our bums off. It was the first morning some of us wore legs warmers, and we all wore vests and arm warmers. Wisdom lies at over 6,000 feet but it’s situated in a valley surrounded by mountains in the distance and dry sage, big ranches and thousands of haystacks. Hay here isn’t baled, it’s stacked in bundles three stories high and clumped together in piles as big as a dump truck. We rode single file through the early morning chill and weaved our way through Big Sky country. We climbed three significant passes today and topped out at 7,400 feet over Big Hole Pass, the highest of the trip so far. Once again, we rode ripping descents where we could let go of the brakes and freefall down the mountain for ten miles at times—it does truly make me feel like a kid. We are staying in Ennis at approximately 5,000 feet and we are acclimatizing nicely, readying ourselves for the higher elevations to come. Today, we were separated for about 15 miles halfway into the ride and I found myself all alone, fearing I was going the distance by myself. I cried a little tear, then steeled myself for the journey. 15 miles later my three (former) friends came blowing up behind me. “Damn, you’re a sight for sore eyes.,” I cried. Rainman accused me of making a Jacky Durant style solo bid for the line, and maybe I was. Today is another 160-mile day through Yellowstone, the granddaddy stage of the Tour, and we ascend to 8,000 feet. I be a little skeered of today’s stage. From the road.

Day 9 / August 12: Ennis, MT > Signal Mountain, WY / 170 miles, 10 hours; 7,200 feet of climbing: Today was a magnificent, albeit a monster, day. We tallied 170 miles, the longest day in this year’s Tour, but we also rode through majestic Yellowstone Park. It was Rainman’s last day, and we’ll miss his pulls from here on in, especially since we’d been making him pull double-duty as of late. We started early this morning because we knew it would be a long day. It was cold again—44 degrees—and the first chance to stop was 70 miles away in West Yellowstone. Not only was it cold, we battled a stiff headwind the entire way along with several large humps. The land was exposed and we were still riding across hilly, dry landscape with tough sage grass in all directions. But we rode single file, rotating, letting the stronger two do most of the work (Pat and Erik), and by the time we arrived in West Yellowstone four hours later the sky was clearing and the sun was shining and the temperature was rising. We also finally rode free of the smoke and the blue sky was stunning. Entering Yellowstone Park the sere, arid landscape gave way to high altitude forests—we were now above 6,000 feet. In the Park we rode by Old Faithful and climbed three significant passes, crossing the Continental Divide twice, and reaching an elevation of 8,300 feet. We again rocketed down several, steep gyring descents, many 5 to 7 miles in length, reaching speeds of close to 50 miles per hour for miles at a time. Though we didn’t see much wildlife, Yellowstone is an amazing place in its own right with mountains, fast flowing streams and rivers, canyons, wild flowers and large animals. The traffic was heavy around Old Faithful but in other sections we zipped along unobstructed. The last 20 miles today were spent riding in the warm sunshine and it was a fitting end to Rainman’s time with us. We hate to see him go but the show goes on. Special shout out to Katie O’shea, who has taken excellent care of four needy souls, and who can drive an RV like a long haul trucker! From the road.

Day 10 / August 13: Signal Mountain, WY > Lander, WY / 135 miles, 7 hours, 45 minutes; 5,000 feet of climbing: Today we were dragging slightly at the start of the day after the long trek the day before. We began a little later, at 8 AM, and right out of the gate climbed the biggest pass of the trip so far, Togwotee Pass, a 17-mile climb reaching an elevation of 9,500 feet, once again the highest point of the journey so far. Erik, Frank and I set the tempo on cruise control and glided up the massive climb at a comfortable clip—survival and feeling (somewhat) fresh was the goal. At the top we even spotted a large mama moose (called a cow) and her calf, a sure sign this was destined to be a great day. We stood and gawked a few minutes while mama kept her eyes on us, and then tore down the other side, once again free falling down a 10 mile climb with wide, sweeping turns, barely pushing down on the pedals yet scorching down the mountain at 45-50 miles per hour. At the top of the climb we were in green, high elevation forests with tall pines, spruces and firs but as we descended we dropped down through high altitude meadows and eventually back into barren landscape. After the steep descent ended the road continued to tilt down and we were able to maintain a 25 mile per hour average for large stretches of time. We rode through the Painted Hills in Wyoming, barren, bone dry cliffs that are streaked with colors—red, brown, maroon, gold. At times today, we had a blowing wind at our backs, warm sunshine on our shoulders, and a downward tilting road—it was one of my favorite days of the trek so far. At one point the sky to our left turned dark purple and we could see the rain far off in the distance, so we bolted for Lander, with Lefty Gruenwedel doing the lion’s share of the workload. Five miles from Lander the rain came down sideways and the wind nearly knocked us over so we pulled over under a shed and took cover. The owner eventually came out after the rain subsided and welcomed us; he was a kind, generous fellow. In fact, we have met a lot of kind, giving souls on the trip so far, including many people riding ultra-distances like us. This path we are on, the Transamerica Trail, must be like the great Silk Road, only for bikes.

After 10 days, our bodies are sore and we are fatigued, but the reality of actually completing this fantastic, epic quest is becoming a reality as opposed to something far off in the future. Traveling on two wheels drives home the fact that there is no better way to see this spectacular, amazing, diverse country we live in than by sticking your nose in the wind, whether walking, on a horse, or on a bike. Each day is a new adventure with new sites and we never know exactly what we will see, and that’s only one thing that makes the journey so special, even if some of the climbs are woefully long. For me, completing this task will be a great milestone, and a sign I am once again alive. From the road.

Day 11 / August 14: Lander, WY > Rawlins, WY / 125 miles, 6 hours, 45 minutes; 4,500 feet of climbing: Today, we were treated like third class pack mules—it was a day of hard work. When the three of us left Lander it was warm and sunny but less than an hour into the ride, the winds were already near gale force busters, and it was blowing slantways. We were over 6,000 feet in the air and the wind can whip up here. Shortly after starting we again climbed a significant 7-mile climb as the wind blasted us from the side, at times shoving us off our line by six inches or more. But we put our shoulder to the wheel, and like Sisyphus, pushed that damn rock up the hill one pedal stroke at a time. We were in a barren, remote region in Wyoming and there were few houses and fewer little towns between cities so Katie met us in the RV 40 miles in at a rest stop and we dined on haute cuisine like fancy Frenchmen. At the rest stop, a dozen or so adventure racers were taking a rest and we conversed—we’d run across several of them the day before. They were carrying heavy packs and biking, navigating, canoeing and trail running across this rugged landscape—and we thought our trek was hard. We did have a tailwind for about 30 miles or so after the stop and we sailed towards Rawlins over long, desolate, but beautiful stretches with a wide-open sky above us and great expanses of untouched land around us. We were again riding through sagebush and rolling hills. With about 45 miles to go we turned at Muddy Gap and the headwind smacked us in the face—we’d struggle with the wind the rest of the way. It was a difficult stretch and the roadway was chipped and rutted causing a few issues with wheels. With about 18 miles to go the rain and the wind pounded us yet again but we pushed on and punched through and rolled into Rawlins on dry roads, wet but happy to be alive. Tomorrow we leave Wyoming and head into Colorado and I can hardly wait for the fun to begin. From the road.

Day 12 / August 15: Rawlins, WY > Walden, CO / 110 miles, 6 hours, 30 minutes; 4,400 feet of climbing: Though the miles were slightly less than we’ve been rolling up, today was another blue-collar work day battling the elements. When we rolled out of Rawlins it was warm and sunny and life was good. But the forecast called for wind and rain later in the day so our jersey pockets bulged with rain jackets and extra gear. As we sailed clear of Rawlins and into the rugged, remote outback of southern Wyoming we were again three tiny dots in a vast ocean of rolling hills covered with several types of sagebrush and brown, bare hills. One species of the low-lying woody shrub was covered with little yellow blooming flowers, making the landscape look like it had been dusted with yellow gold. As we plunged deeper in the day, the sky turned dark purple and smoky gray and the expected storms rolled in earlier than predicted. At first, it was only a smattering of wet drops, but the clouds eventually slit open and dropped their payload on the parched, thirsty land below. But we intuited the impending pluvial deluge and had already donned our rain jackets, and because the temp was relatively warm and we were dry, we were all snug as a bug. We kept riding and after an hour punched through the worst of the wet stuff. During the entire time we rode in less than ideal conditions, the landscape and surrounding scenery was so magnificent, so wide open, so different from the usual fare back home in the holler, that it kept smiles on our faces. Life is good, wet or dry.

The highlight of the day was when eagle eye Crumley spied a bald eagle perched atop a green metal fence eyeballing us as we rode by. (He also spotted the moose earlier in the trip.) It was the first time any of us have seen a bald eagle in the wild and this big, bad bird was a jaw-dropping sight. The bird was huge, much larger than I expected. This eagle was fully mature and could have easily picked up a cat with its enormous talons, which were as big as my hands, and flown away to its lair and feasted. In fact, the bird was so large it could have plucked out our eyeballs with its massive beak and gulped them both down at once without water. We stopped and admired the bird while it swiveled its head and checked us out. Most birds would have flown away because were standing only about 20 yards away, but this bird of prey knew it was the king and we were in its castle, so he stayed put on its throne he entire time and eventually watched us ride away into the wild blue yonder. Seeing the eagle was surely a sign this was, and would be, a great day.

After marveling at the eagle we pushed on into the hinterland. The rain let up but the clouds were thick and the wind never let up. The big hills came one after another as we left Wyoming and entered the great state of Colorado. Once we were in Colorado, we had climbed to 8,000 feet and the surrounding hills were now covered in trees, a nice sight to see after being exposed to the elements for the entirety of the day. We rode tourist tempo into Walden and ended the day on a high note. There was only one restaurant in town, a combo hamburger-beer joint and bowling alley and the high octane porter I drank had me glowing with pride and warmed my insides on a cold blustery night. Tomorrow’s another big day to Breckenridge, but Paul King is meeting us on the road between here and there, and we’re going to let him pull us home to Breck—can’t wait! From the road.

Day 13 / August 16: Walden, CO > Breckenridge / 130 miles, 7 hours, 45 minutes; 5,800 feet of climbing: We were looking forward to this day since the beginning of the trek because we were riding to Breckenridge, but it was going to be a long, hard slog to get there. We left the one-horse town of Walden in northern Colorado at 7 AM and it was a frosty 40 degrees. We were bundled up from head to toe with arm warmers, jackets, leg warmers, gloves and a hat but the sun was shining in a big, wide open blue sky. After an hour we climbed to 9,600 feet and crossed the Continental Divide yet again, once again breaking a new record for the highest elevation of the 2017 CC Tour. But Crumley made a mistake and showed his hand—his angel wings and feather-light legs were on full display as he danced up the slope like a ballerina while Lefty and I were ground to a fine powder. We climbed into the clouds but on the long 10-mile descent dropped back into sunshine, but it was still breezy and chilly—we were in leg and arm warmers until the last 25 miles. We had also plunged into the majestic regions of Colorado—alpine forests covered the hills and fast flowing rivers and creeks were on offer all day. About 35 miles out of Breck, we met up with my old amigo, Paul King, and he put us on his wheel and carried us home: Once again, I was Riding with the King. The last 20 miles we climbed up on the Dillon Damn and rode an amazing bike path at tourist tempo all the way to Breck. The path rode along the damn, then dipped and dived and turned and twisted its way up the mountain at a gentle grade. The path was lined with trees and we rode beside a gushing creek flowing down the mountain. Breck was a welcome sight for our tired legs. That evening we sat at the bar at a local favorite, Eric’s Pizza, and dined on comfort food and cold beer. I didn’t eat much—an entire pizza, part of Frank’s pizza, hot wings, fried cheese sticks and chips. It was a great to see the Kinger again and share a portion of our adventure with him. From the road.

Day 14 / August 17: Breckenridge > Pueblo / 145 miles, 8 hours; 5,400 feet of climbing, 10,000 feet of descending: Today, we left the high mountains of the western United States behind and descended a total of over 10,000 feet onto the high plains of the Midwest—it was a day spent tucked in, jaws resting on the handlebars, elbows clamped to the ribs, descending like a fired bullet for mile after mile after mile after country mile. When we left Breckenridge, we were pleasantly surprised at the temperature. Breck sits at 9,500 feet so we expected bone-jarring cold. Instead, it was sunny and mild with temps hovering in the low 50s. We immediately climbed another iconic climb, Hoosier Pass, a 10 mile climb that reached the highest point on the 2017 Cross Country Trek, 11,600 feet, and crosses the Continental Divide for the last time. We glided up Hoosier at a steady tempo, trying to conserve as much energy as possible in these oxygen-starved zones for the demanding day ahead. While we were scheduled to descend a great deal of the day, we’d climb over 5,000 feet, so we still had work to do after the ascent up Hoosier. At the top of Hoosier, we celebrated our accomplishment with fist pumps before rocketing down the mountain. Once we descended, for the next 30-40 miles we stayed between 8,500 – 9,500 feet. The sun was still shining and though the temps were mild, the wind was whipping yet again. The hills and mountains in this region are green and covered with trees and yellow and purple wildflowers, creating a striking contrast to the brown, barren regions of Wyoming we pedaled through in the preceding days, yet each still magnificent in its own particular way. Around Mile 60, the descending began in earnest when we dropped down an 11 mile descent that was fast and flowy. It wasn’t so steep that we had to brake, and the turns weren’t tight, so we could zip along in the drops at 35 miles per hour. Traffic was scarce and now we had cloud cover without the rain; life was grand. Then came a 7 mile descent, then a 5 mile decent, then another 5 mile screamer, then a final 20 mile descent into Pueblo. My hands and my sphincter were sore from squeezing so tight. As we dropped to 5,000 feet the landscape became dry again and the vegetation changed to dry scrubby bushes and trees, and the temp, which had been mild all day, climbed into the hot zone. But again cloud cover rolled in and spared us from being roasted in a blast furnace as we rolled into Pueblo, our destination on today’s peregrinations. Today was a long time in the saddle, but it was an epic, adventure-filled, eye-popping, fabulastic day. I almost didn’t want the day to end. Almost.

We are staying motivated and excited about every day, and now that the first half of the journey is over, the second half beckons. And even though the dreaded roads and ill-reputed winds of Kansas lie ahead, we’re ready to do battle. And even though we have detailed maps, and overviews of all roads are available for inspection on the internet, we never know exactly what’s around the next bend, which heightens our sense of wonder and awe. I’ve said it before—this world is full of spectacular, amazing places, and is chocked full of all types of people. From the road.

Day 15 / August 18: Pueblo > Eads, CO / 110 miles, 5 hours, 45 minutes; 1,000 feet of climbing: Today, we plunged deeper into the remote outback of eastern Colorado, where the Rocky Mountains are now in the rearview mirror, and the dry, rolling hills of the Eastern Plains lie ahead. Wikipedia states, “The Eastern Colorado Plains are among the most sparsely populated areas in the continental United States.” Amen, brother. About halfway into the day’s trek, we stopped at a one-horse cowboy town where downtown—only about a dozen buildings—was deserted. Somehow, a small grocery store was open and hanging on. There was little business at the grocery store, only about three locals meandered in while we were there. While we were sitting outside in the shade against the building to avoid boiling in the scorching sun, feasting on local fare, a local gent rumbled up in his old car and stepped out and walked to the drink machine. He was about 50, tall and gangly, with long arms, thin greasy, gray hair and a cowboy hat. His hands were permanently stained with grease and his skin coloring indicated a hard scrabble life spent in the western sun. He may or may not have had all his teeth. Naturally, we engaged him in conversation. When we told him we were riding to Eades, still some 60 miles away, he looked stunned, as if someone told him we owned a goat that shat golden nuggets of dung. We asked what was in Eades and he chuckled and grinned and said, “A whole lotta nuthin.” We looked around; if this place was “something,” then exactly what “nuthin” meant was hard to imagine.

We left Pueblo early and it was already warm and sunny so we started is short sleeves. The day consisted of riding slightly rolling plains and hills. The winds were slight, and what little breezes that blew were mostly propitious, propelling us down the flattish roads at twenty miles per hour. In fact, our average speed for the day (20 mph) is admirable for a short ride back home in the holler, much less Day 15 of a cross country trek. But we weren’t trying to hit a certain speed, it just happened. The landscape in the Eastern Plains is dry and arid; agriculture and raising livestock are obviously significant to the economy in these parts. We saw large fields of corn, most still immature, and the largest stockyard filled with the most cattle I have ever seen in my life. There were probably thousands of cattle in various stockyards that stretched for a couple of miles. The malodorous stench from the effluvia wafted into my nostrils as we rode and had me dreaming of a bacon cheeseburger with a side a blue cheese and large pile of fries, my go-to food for the 2017 CC Trek. Each small community we ride through is also marked by a prominent water tower and a ten-story grain elevator that we can see on the horizon from 10 miles away. We pushed through the afternoon heat and arrived in Eades by 3 PM, 110 miles in the tank. I was pleasantly surprised to see our hotel when it appeared, a beacon of light in the middle of “a whole lotta nuthin.” Tomorrow we push into Kansas and the battle continues. From the road.

Day 16 / August 19: Eads, CO > Dighton, KS / 125 miles, 6 hours, forty-five minutes; 650 feet of climbing: About 3 hours into today’s ride, we exited the plains of Colorado and pushed into Kansas, entered the Central Time Zone, and continued our physical battle with the notorious winds and the furnace-like heat of this remote region. We also were, and are still, dealing with the mental torture of seeing the blacktop stretched out in front of us like a long black thread heading straight as a plum line over the horizon and into infinity. We left at sunup this morning (6 AM) to avoid as much of the afternoon swelter as possible. The road started flat and would remain so for the rest of the day, 125 solid miles. Because the terrain is flat, the blue edge of the sky fused with horizon of the land, so heading east, a red sun rose right in front of us and turned yellow as it made its transit across the cloudless sky. The temp was nice and cool early and we felt like a million dollars as we glided down the smooth blacktop like three pimps cruising the strip in a Cadillac Coupe deVille. We rode by large fields of green corn, enormous tracts of big yellow sunflowers that stretched as far as the eye could see, and more stockyards filled with moo cows. The roads in this region are laid out in a grid and the towns are about 10 miles apart and each has a grain elevator that we can see for 7 to 8 miles as we approach. As we reached one town and one grain elevator another giant silo appeared on the horizon, giving us the impression we are moving forward but making no progress, a bad dream where the finish keeps moving backwards. The landscape is still mostly green with a few sparse trees but the brown is slowly and constantly creeping into the scenery—soon, all will be nothing but dirt. The winds here pick up as the day progresses so the morning pedaling was easy. When the winds did blow, they came from the south, for us a crosswind with a slight push from the back. After noon, the temps rose into the 90s, so with 40 miles to go, we rode with caution, pouring liquid down our gullets like Crumley back in his “kegger” days. We were in survival mode, trying not to baste in this high plains pressure cooker.

We rolled into Dighton around 3 PM and ate dinner at the only game in town, a hamburger joint that reminded me of the DQ back home. Katie, Lefty, Fatty and I ordered burgers, fries and a blizzard at the window and ate on metal benches outside. The 70-year-old lady behind the counter was like the Soup Nazi on “Seinfeld”—she wasn’t taking any small talk and didn’t care if you were riding your damn bike across the country. When your order was ready she rapped on the window with her knuckles and jerked her chin, signaling your meal was ready so get your ass up and come get it. She scared the hale out of me—I’m just a helpless, naive, (mostly) innocent southern boy—but the double bacon cheeseburger she fried up was just the type of fuel this old beat up, battered body needed. And to think, tomorrow, we wake up and do it again. From the road.

Day 17 / August 20: Dighton, KS > Sterling, KS / 136 miles, 7 hours, 15 minutes; 800 feet of climbing: Although every day on the 2017 CC Trek qualifies as an “epic,” there are certain Red Letter Days that have been circled on the calendar since the itinerary was set; today was one of them. Not only was Day 17 a big mileage day, but we also knew we’d be riding across central Kansas, fighting wind and heat, no shelter from the sun, physically fatigued, and battling the boredom of riding over long, lonely, flat stretches of blacktop. Our plan was to beat, cheat and steal time from the whipping winds and the blazing sun for as long as possible, then strive for a happy equilibrium of peaceful coexistence, and finally, against all odds, when King Sol was burning with full fury in mid-afternoon, to find a way to keep from being pulverized by the oppressive, mind melting, brain puddling heat. We decamped from downtown Eads before sunrise and were already heading east by the time the first fiery blip of the big red orb pierced the horizon. Once the first crescent of the sun appeared, the rest followed rapidly, as if it was angry we’d left early. We had three-and-a-half hours of pedaling (60 miles) during which the temperature was cool and the winds were mild—both would kick up as the day progressed. During the first 60 miles while it was cool we set a quick tempo—over 19 miles per hour—but then, when the sun’s beam began to cause the temp to spike, we eased back the reins, let off the accelerator, and pushed on. The winds were blowing, but once again Fortuna smiled and graced us with crosswinds, with a touch of a tailwind at times. Today, the three of us we were firing on all cylinders, completely synched in to one another, gliding down the smooth buttery roadways of Kansas as one working unit. When such synchronicity does occur, it’s like an orchestra with perfect timing hitting all the right notes; it’s a beautiful thing to behold, and immensely gratifying to be part of. With 10 miles to go, the heat was relentless and unbearable. We made one last pit stop, stuffing down pizza slices kept warm under heat lamps and guzzling cold fountain drinks in cups the size of a trash can, and then began the final push for Sterling, our destination on Day 17. We eased back the tempo to walking pace and rolled into Sterling overheated but happy. A digital thermometer indicated it was 100 degrees, but it felt like 200. Still, we were alive and would live to fight another day. Tomorrow’s the eclipse, another Red Letter Day, and a new adventure awaits. Though the temps are again expected to be in the roasting range, I can hardly wait. From the road.

Day 18 / August 21: Sterling, KS > Eureka, KS / 140 miles, 9 hours, 15 minutes; 2,600 feet of climbing; 35 miles of gravel: Day 18 was a brutal day in the 2017 CC Tour, one of the toughest yet—we were treated to a medley of various evils. It was the day of the eclipse and we didn’t know exactly what to expect—would it be dangerously dark, forcing us off our bikes, or would the sky only dim, allowing us to ride through? We decided to make a decision about whether to stop or not on the fly. However, this morning when we woke, rain was sloshing down and forked bolts of lightning striped the early morning dark. Just when I was about to pull the covers over my head, Crumley pounded on the door and said, “Let’s go, girls, time to boogie!” I muttered an unprintable obscenity directed squarely at the Fat Bastard. We did delay the start for over an hour, then Lefty, Fatty and I headed out into the maelstrom for what would we knew would be an epic day, but for unforeseen and unexpected reasons. The lightening moved east but the rain continued to spit and spatter the first two hours, soaking us through and through. But it was warm and we were actually happy, sailing along in blissful ignorance of the beatdown that awaited further up the road. In the first 50 miles, we twisted and turned through small farming communities on tree-lined roads with green grass fields to the side. It was a nice change from the straight-as-an-arrow roads we’d slogged over the last two days. Crickets buzzed in the wet grass and the smell of damp hay bales was pungent and the sights and the sounds reminded me of riding back home, so much so that it made yearn mightily for my kinfolk back in the holler. After about 3 hours the skies cleared and just when it was about to get hot, the moon began its slow slide in front of the sun, eventually causing the temps to drop into the 70s. The light only dimmed, similar to dusk, allowing us to sail along in cool, temperate conditions. We were 100 miles into the ride clipping along at 19 miles per hour before the moon moved off the grid and the sun was given free rein to scorch and terrorize. But we had no worries, there were only 40 miles to go, and Lefty even laughed and thumbed his nose at the Old King Sol. It was a grievous error in judgement, one of the worst of the Tour.

With 35 miles to go, when we least expected it, just when we thought we were sliding smoothly down a beveled surface, preparing for a soft landing, we rolled onto dirt and gravel roads. We would suffer on the hot, white sand and gravel road for the rest of the day. The gravel slowed us down considerably, giving the sun more time to fry us like hot oil on a griddle. Plus, the white sand radiated heat, creating a situation where we were being toasted not only from the top, but also the bottom—broiled and baked at the same time. Not to mention, this part of Kansas has big rippled roads, meaning we had to work like galley slaves to push ourselves over them. We sizzled in the sun, and the white and gravel road went on and on and on. For some reason, we cursed Jered Gruber, probably because we knew of his love of gravel. It was our only recompense. By the time we arrived in Eureka, we were scorched, drained, waxed, overcooked, overheated and leaking fluid. We only had time to wash our bikes, eat, and sleep. I even cursed my job as the Tour’s scrivener. The next day we’ll still be in Kansas, and we get to do this all over again. From the road.

Day 19 / August 22: Eureka, KS > Pittsburg, KS / 115 miles, 6 hours, 30 minutes; 2,500 feet of climbing: The natural elements a cyclist encounters on a daily basis are doubled-edged swords. For example, the sun can warm but it can also burn; the wind can be at your back or pound you in the face; and the clouds can provide cover from the scorching sun but they can also dump bucket loads of rain. While we’ve pushed through brief, intermittent periods of rain over the course of our previous 18 days, it’s never been an all day drenching. Today, Day 19, that would change. We rode in the wet stuff the majority of the day as we moved closer to busting out of Kansas. In fact, Kansas is basically behind us now after Day 19—tomorrow we’ll cross into Missouri in the first 5 miles and leave the Sunflower State for good. Kansas has been a cruel taskmaster and has lived up to its surly reputation, but we’re not dead yet and we’ve survived to fight another day.

Once again this morning at 7 AM when we were preparing to decamp, rain was pouring out of the sky, so we delayed departing for an hour, then clicked our heels twice and headed out into the wild blue yonder. The rain at this point was only a mizzle but the roads were wet; as a result, so were we, through and through. The skies were dry but blanketed with blue and purple clouds for the first couple of hours and we cruised along on gently undulating roads with very little wind resistance, but eventually the worm turned and we headed straight into the drenching maw. It rained and rained and the intensity varied from a light spray to a full-blown downpour. But the wet was warm and we were riding in short sleeves and wearing mile-wide grins, and the cloud cover kept the temps cool so heat was not a factor. Today was not about gazing on beautiful mountains and fast-flowing rivers and creeks; it was about getting the job done, crossing from Point A to Point B, and we did just that—we put our spades in the hole and dug. And about one hour from our destination, the clouds were swept away, the sky cleared, and warm, blessed sunshine graced us for the final miles into town. We even had a stiff tailwind. Kansas seemed to be tapping us on the shoulders, giving us a wink and a nod for our crossing—lesser men would have kicked off their shoes and pulled the plug on Le Tour. But we’re committed to the task and determined to finish this quest. With 10 days to go, I can almost smell the fried chicken, butterbeans and cat head biscuits. Take me home, Percy, my super-secret spot is sore as hale! From the road.

Day 20 / August 23: Pittsburg, KS > Marschfield. MO / 115 miles, 7 hours, 30 minutes; 5,500 feet of climbing: Today, only 5 miles into the day’s odyssey, we closed the door on Kansas and swept into Missouri. Crumley immediately belted out a rebel yell and started whistling “Dixie.” Lefty, who’d been nearly poisoned by Pepsi’s out west, was ecstatic to be back in Coke Country. And I swore I could smell hash browns from the Waffle House. Crossing Kansas was one of, if not the most, difficult state crossing of 2017 CC Tour, and stepping out of the Sunflower State was definitely a signal moment. We crossed into Missouri beneath crystal clear blue skies and cool breezes—the high temps would hover in the 70s all day long. Once in Missouri, however, the roads began to roll. At first the grade of the hills was a moderate 6–8%, but after fifteen miles or so the slope increased to 9-10%, and the undulations were relentless. We were now cycling through the infamous Ozark Mountains in Missouri hillbilly country. About halfway into the day’s misadventure not only did the hummocks grow bigger, they were even steeper—the inclines bumped up to a hurtful 12-14%, and they continued to come like hammer blows in endless, unceasing waves. We would stand in the saddle and dig over one steep pitch, then fly down the backside at 40 miles per hour only to be greeted by another terrible vertical wall. Unlike Kansas where we rode in one gear for fifty miles at a time, we were constantly changing gears, shifting from the big ring to the little one and then back again as we crested each rise, and changing sprockets in the back as often as the Kardashians change shoes. But all the folks we met in the Show-Me-State were generous and hospitable and it made the hurt a little more tolerable. I even heard a bit of a twang in a couple of the locals’ speech and it was music to my poor, burnt ears. Though there were no mountain climbs, the total climbing we achieved on the day was similar to some of the days in Colorado, which means, brothers and sisters, this was one helluva rippled route. Toto, we ain’t in Kansas anymore.

We’re all holding up well mentally and physically after 20 days. The muscles are certainly sore—neck, back, hands, feet—but our motivation is high, especially the closer we get to the home front. Certainly there are times when we all go through our own personal hale, but we have no choice but to grit our teeth, dry our tears, and keep pressing down on the pedals. With every pedal stroke, we’re one step closer to the finish, and even though tomorrow is a monster day, there’s not stopping us now. From the road.

Day 21 / August 24: Marschfield. MO > Ellington, MO / 135 miles, 8 hours, 15 minutes; 8,300 feet of climbing: Today on our cross-country pilgrimage we plunged deep into the gnarly sections of the Ozark Mountains on an epic route whose profile looked like a row of a nasty pit bull teeth—sharp, serrated and severe. At the end of the day, we had climbed more than any other day, yet we had ascended no hill longer than half-a-mile, a testament that there were no flat sections on this backwoods trek today—it was stand up and stomp and then tuck and rocket down the other side all the live long day. Yesterday we climbed small, sharp rises also, but today the hills were more harrowing, less kind, even terrifying, similar to my wife when she’s hangry. The undulating terrain threatened to break our spirit on this relentless, unyielding, back-breaker of a day, but we simply kept pedaling, we had no choice, and finally, after over 8 hours in the saddle, we arrived in Ellington to complete this monumental, Red Letter day. And with 8 rides to go, the monster days, those that are longer than the battery lives of our Garmins, are in the rearview mirror. But don’t think our work is over, more Red Letter days lie ahead.

The weather today was picture perfect—bright blue, cloudless skies and cool, moderate temps that never rose above 80 degrees. We left the foothills of the Ozarks and rode into the river-rich, creek-infested, forested mountains at the center of this unspoiled region. We crossed rivers and streams all day and the tall trees beside the road provided tunnels of shade dappled with patches of sunshine. Other than one brief 10-mile stretch, traffic was sparse and the roads were as smooth as a baby’s butt—if only Crumley could stay off those damn rumble strips that line the edge of the blacktop—they seem to pull him towards them like the proverbial moth to a red hot flame. When he hits the roadside divets, which this part of the country seems to love, it sounds like he’s back there operating a jackhammer, just a-grunting and a-groaning and cursing the idiot who came up with the idea. Hiking trails and campgrounds are abundant in the Ozarks, as well as river rafting and horse riding. The small mountain towns we rode through reminded me of those in North Georgia. With 30 miles to go, 110 miles into the day’s journey, we hit the steepest pitches of the day—14-15% walls that continued until the bitter end. Fatty and Lefty were rolling like Sagan and Avermat on steroids while I was in the back hanging on by my teeth and sucking in oxygen with my mouth open as wide as a whale’s feeding on plankton. The drop down into the gulley-washers was so steep at times we hit over 50 miles per hour, then slowed to about 10 miles per hour on the uphill grunt. And that’s how our day was spent, other than stuffing fried victuals in our mouths at the store stops. The people of this region are kind and gracious, a clue also that we’re in the South (sort of) and pushing closer to home. And though we surely miss our kinfolk, we have to keep our eye on the prize, we have to stay focused with pinpoint laser precision, there’s no time for a mishap now due to inattention. And one frosty brew every night helps kill the pain, at least for me. From the road.

Day 22 / August 25: Ellington, MO > Charleston, MO/ 135 miles, 8 hours, 30 minutes; 4,000 feet of climbing: Today was a 135-mile recovery day—I, for one, was feeling leg fatigue from the nearly 14,000 feet we’d climbed in the last two days—and though our little jaunt across Missouri may not been a “monster” (that’s now a debatable assessment), it certainly was adventurous. So far, we have been traveling on the Transamerica Trail, a series of roads mapped out by a cycling organization. We have had maps which show where cities, stores and hotels are along the route. Cars and trucks also use these roads, but most routes are generally less busy and more scenic. The Transamerica Trail is heavily traveled by cross country cycling sojourners like our sweet selves and we’ve met quite a few on our odyssey. But today we came off the Transamerica Trail so we could carve out our own route back to the hometown holler of Athens. And that’s where today’s misadventure begins: About 20 miles into our route, wooden barriers boldly declaimed our road was closed…permanently. On the other side of the barriers it looked like a sinkhole the size of Stanford Stadium had opened. Rather than take the 20-mile detour, we forged ahead and attempted to cross what we’d later call Missouri’s very own Great Rift Valley (GRV). The GRV, which was about one-hundred yards wide and thirty feet deep, was covered with rocks and boulders and dried mud. Undaunted, we hoisted our bikes on our backs, and in our fancy, shiny bike shoes, swanky cycling kits, and million-dollar sunglasses, tiptoed like ballerinas across the river of rocks. I fell once, soiling the bottom of my luxurious bibs and putting a nice divot in my snappy new helmet, and I sank in the mire also, turning my glossy black shoes to brown. Once we crossed the gulch, we had to find a way up a steep, muddy embankment and then forge our way through a thicket of brambles to the road on the other side. As has happened to me so often in my life, once we finally arrived on the other side about one hour later, Fatso and Lefty looked like they were wearing freshly laundered clothes while I resembled a pig in a pen. Such is the sad and sordid story of my life.

Once we were free of the GRV it was clear sailing the rest of the day. We rode clear of the Ozarks, climbing a few stingers in the process, and rode through a beautiful, heavily wooded part of Eastern Missouri. The trees eventually gave way to ginormous fields of tall corn and fat, leafy soybean, and the final forty miles was board flat—it was a welcome deviation from the absurd hills we’d climbed the last two days. The weather today was again a 10 out of 10 and the sky was blue and the temps were cool, though the afternoon did heat up into the mid-80s. But it was a long, long day in the saddle, partly because of the crossing of the GRV and partly because we stopped and double-checked directions half a dozen times with locals, which is a nice segue into the last paragraph.

The folksy residents of Missouri we’ve encountered have been the kindest and the most generous of the trip. We’ve talked with farmers in the field, residents in their front yards, and clerks at our store stops. Each and every one has been a gem, some especially so. It’s not that the folks out west are rude, it’s just that there’s a noticeable difference, it’s the willingness to help a traveler, a stranger no less, to go out of one’s way to be kind without asking for anything in return. It’s something I’ll try and take to heart. From the road.

Day 23 / August 26: Charleston, MO > Princeton, KY / 105 miles, 6 hours, 30 minutes; 2,800 feet of climbing: Today was a day of river crossings and state entries and exits. We bobbed and weaved across the Mighty Mississippi, the Ohio River, the Tennessee River and the Cumberland over ancient metal bridges that creaked and rocked and that had absolutely no shoulder whatsoever. And it was a long plunge down to the slow-moving waters below, a perfect place to drop a body if you’re in that line of work. When crossing big waterways, there aren’t an abundance of choices, so we had to motor across with big rigs riding our bumpers while I, with camera in hand, just kept snapping photos of these swaying metal contraptions that held our lives in their hands. Several barges each the size of a football field were floating in all the waterways we crossed. We crossed the Mississippi first, about 15 miles into the day’s trek, and exited Missouri and unexpectedly rolled into Illinois for about 30 seconds before immediately traversing the Ohio River and pushed into Kentucky—in a span of about 15 minutes we’d been in three different states. We spent the rest of the day hyper-gliding through the Bluegrass State, happy to only be riding 100 miles or so. We’ve hit a streak of nice weather—blue skies and mild temps—but it did heat up near the end of the day, causing a bit of both swearing and sweating. The storm in the Gulf has not affected us, and we are holding out hope we can skate home these last days in dry, sunny conditions. The roads we were on today were not conducive to cycling but we sucked it up and charged ahead.

We’re fast approaching the end of the 2017 CC Trek and now, for the last week, each day’s miles really do decrease significantly. There’s a notable difference between 135 miles and 100 miles, about 2 hours total, and at the end of a long, hard day, it’s a welcome respite. Riding the 2017 CC Trek has also changed our perspectives on exactly what constitutes a “long” ride, and what qualifies as a “short” ride. Though it’s amusing, we now consider 100 miles a “short” day in the saddle. Lefty is still crushing it while Fatso and I are just trying to make it through each day. We miss our friends and families, but there’s no time yet to be sentimental—the Tour ain’t over until we pedal into Athens, the Fat Lady sings, and the Dogs send App State packing. (Sorry Trivette, but it’s game over, Home Boy.) See yall soon. From the road.